Although you may not agree with this at first, communicating with our patients is one of the most important things we do as trauma professionals. You can be the “best” doctor, nurse or paramedic in the world, but if you can’t communicate well your patients will have nothing good to say about your care of them.
The most important skill needed for good communication is empathy. You need to be able to put yourself in their position. Imagine what you would want if you were on the receiving end of the information you are about to deliver. What would you say if you were talking to your spouse, your mother, or your child?
Next, think about what kinds of things they would want to know. In trauma, they obviously want to know information about the injuries. Patients and families also need to hear about the short term and long term plans. What’s going to happen in the next few hours? Will surgery be needed? When? How long will I be in the hospital? How long will I be out of work?
Many of these questions are difficult to answer at the time of admission after trauma. If you don’t know or it’s impossible to determine, say so. Experienced clinicians can make some pretty good guesses, but should always qualify their answers. You should make it clear that you are giving an estimate, and that things may very well change. Also explain that as these changes occur and time passes, you will give better estimates.
One of the most important things to remember is the “keep it simple” mandate. Our patients and their families are smart. Although they may not know the lingo that we are familiar with, they can grasp the concepts of what is happening. Be careful to keep your explanations understandable, and don’t make the mistake of using any complicated medical terms. Imagine the surprise of the patient when they find out what “we’re going to insert a Foley catheter now, sir” really means. Also keep in mind that the patients and their families are stressed, and may not be able to concentrate on or remember everything you say. Repetition is good in these situations.
Communication after major trauma is challenging. Remember, if the families don’t get what you’re saying, it’s your fault, not theirs.
Many trauma patients require implantable hardware for treatment of their orthopedic injuries. One of the concerns they frequently raise is whether this will cause a problem at TSA airport screening checkpoints (Transportation Safety Administration).
The answer is probably “yes.” About half of implants will trigger the metal detectors, and these days that usually means a pat down search. And letters from the doctor don’t help. It turns out that overall, 38% are detected when the scanner is set to low sensitivity and 52% at high sensitivity.
Here is a more detailed breakdown:
- Lower extremity hardware is detected 10 times more often than upper extremity or spine implants
- 90% of total knee and total hip replacements are detected
- Upper extremity implants such as shoulder, wrist and radial head replacements are rarely detected
- Plates, screws, IM nails, and wires usually escape detection
- Cobalt-chromium and titanium implants trigger alarms more often than stainless steel
If your patient knows that their implant triggers the detectors, they have two options: request a patdown search, or volunteer to go through the full body millimeter wave scanner. This device looks at everything from the skin outwards, and will not “see” the implant and is probably the preferred choice. If they choose to go through the metal detector and trigger it, they are required to have a patdown. Choosing to go through the body scanner after setting off the detector is no longer an allowed option.
Source: Detection of orthopaedic implants in vivo by enhanced-sensitivity, walk-through metal detectors. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2007 Apr;89(4):742-6.
I’m on my way to Dubai to visit the Arab Health Expo 2014 at the Convention Center. I’d like to encourage any of my readers from the Middle East to stop by and say hi! I’ll be in the United States expo area at the Minnesota International Medicine booth. Please stop by to chat! I’ll be there from Tuesday through Thursday, then will head home.
See you there!
When one works in the trauma field, or medicine in general, we deal with the need for sterility all the time. We use equipment and devices that are sterile, and we administer drugs and fluids that are sterile. In surgery, we create sterile fields in which to use this sterile stuff.
In the past few years, we’ve come to the realization that the sterility we take for granted may not always be the case. There have been several cases of contaminated implanted hardware. And most recently, supposedly sterile injectable steroids were found to be contaminated with fungus, leading to several fatal cases of meningitis.
A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine brings a bizarre problem to light: microbial stowaways in the topical products we use to sterilize things. Most drugs and infused fluids are prepared under sterile conditions. However, due to the antimicrobial activity of topical antiseptics, there is no requirement in the US that they be prepared in this way.
A number of cases of contamination have been reported over the years:
- Iodophor – contamination with Buckholderia and Pseudomonas occurred during manufacture, leading to dialysis catheter infection and peritonitis
- Chlorhexidine – contaminated with Serratia, Buckholderia and Ralstonia by end users, leading to wound infections, catheter infections, and death
- Benzalkonium chloride – contaminated with Buckholderia and Mycobacteria by end users, causing septic arthritis and injection site infections
Bottom line: Nothing is sacred! This problem is scarier than you think, because our most basic assumptions about these products makes it nearly impossible for us to consider them when tracking down infection sources. Furthermore, they are so uncommon that they frequently may go undetected. The one telltale sign is the presence of infection from weird bacteria. If you encounter these bugs, consider this uncommon cause. Regulatory agencies need to get on this and mandate better manufacturing practices for topical antiseptics.
Reference: Microbial stowaways in topical antiseptic products. NEJM 367:2170-2173, Dec 6 2012.
A major part of any patient encounter is the physical exam. This is particularly true in the trauma patient, because it allows trauma professionals to identify potential life and limb threatening injuries quickly and deal with them. Unfortunately, we tend to mentally block out certain parts of the body, typically the genitalia and perineum, and may not do a complete exam of the area. I call these areas the naughty bits. For those of you who don’t get the reference, here’s the origin of this phrase:
Specifically, the naughty bits are the penis, vagina, perineum, anus and natal cleft (aka the butt crack or arse crack). These areas are more likely to remain covered when the patient arrives, and are less likely to be examined thoroughly.
In penetrating trauma, a detailed exam of these areas is extremely important in every patient to avoid hidden injuries and to determine if nearby internal structures (rectum, urethra) might have been injured.
Here are some tips for each of the areas:
- Penis – Always look for any blood at the meatus (or a little blood in the underwear) as a possible sign of urethral injury. This is frequently associated with pelvic fractures.
- Scrotum – Blood staining here is usually from blood dissecting away from pelvic fractures. Patients with this finding are more likely to need angiographic embolization of pelvic bleeding.
- Vagina – external exam should always be done. Internal and/or speculum exam should be done in pregnant patients, and those with external bleeding or pelvic fractures
- Perineum – Also associated with pelvic fracture and significant bleeding. Skin tears in this area are usually lacerations indicating an open pelvic fracture. Alert your orthopaedic surgeons early, and do a good, clean rectal exam (carefully wipe away all external blood). Rectal injuries are common with this finding, and a formal proctoscopic will probably be required.
- Anus – Skin tears virtually guarantee that a deeper rectal injury will be found. Proctoscopic exam in the OR is mandatory.
- Natal cleft – Usually not a lot going on in this area, except in penetrating injury. This is the only area of the naughty bits that can be safely examined in the lateral position.
Bottom line: The naughty bits are important because the occasional missed injury in this area can be catastrophic! Do your job and force yourself to overcome any reluctance to examine them.